In an attempt to facilitate training and education regarding issues affecting transgender individuals, on Nov. 3 and 4, the LGBTQ Center offered two training sessions on transgender allyship. This was the second year that the Center offered this programming and two students, Willow Carter ’15 and Brennan McDaniel ’17, were the co-facilitators for this fall’s sessions.
This was both the first year McDaniel worked in the LGBTQ Center and the first year they were a facilitator for Trans Ally Training. Though their first year working on this project, McDaniel emphasized that it was a learning experience, and that hopefully, they will have the opportunity to work on more projects of this type. “I’m hoping to have these continue—even after Willow graduates—so I’m glad I was able to help out with this one,” wrote McDaniel in an emailed statement.
As a part of this training, McDaniel hoped to educate attendees on some of fundamental issues surrounding gender identity and binaries. McDaniel explained, “I mainly talked about trans identities, defined cissexism on the legal, institutional and interpersonal level, and hopefully I stressed that ‘transgender’ is a wide umbrella term encompassing various types of experiences and bodies, and hopefully people are beginning to understand gender as more than an arbitrary system of identity.”
According to Director of the Women’s and LGBTQ Centers Judy Jarvis, who helped with logistics and planning, the more general trainings, such as the ones that happened this week, are not the only ways that the Vassar community can learn about becoming better allies. In addition to training sessions open to the greater community, there have been more targeted sessions for administration.
Jarvis wrote in an emailed statement, “The LGBTQ Center began offering Trans Allyship trainings in the spring of 2013, and to date we have conducted eight trainings, including the two this week. We both provide general Vassar community trainings like the ones this week, as well as trans allyship trainings tailored to particular offices upon their request.”
Jarvis went on to note, “For example, last year Willow Carter ’15 and I facilitated two trainings with Res Life administrators and CDO administrators.”
While they deemed available training sessions as a critical tool, McDaniel noted that self education is crucial and often needs to be an internal motive. According to McDaniel, deep introspection and hard work are key to working on supporting oppressed groups.
“I think we should view education as a personal responsibility—[Carter] and I sitting at a booth talking about these things is ultimately not the way for people to decolonize their thoughts, to empower themselves to begin to act, and so on,” wrote McDaniel. “I said it already, but I definitely want these [Trans] 101 trainings to be seen as a starting point for people, in order to instill a small amount of consciousness/confidence that’ll somewhat demystify these politics in order to get people talking, organizing and acting.”
One student embodying this proactive attitude of self-improvement as an ally was Katie Torrisi ’15, who attended the Monday night session. She discussed one of the various motivations for student participation in such programs. Torrisi wrote in an emailed statement, “I decided to attend the trans ally training session because I felt that as a cis woman, I owed it not only to my trans friends, but to the trans community to take this opportunity to work to better myself as an ally.”
She particularly spoke to the fact that allyship is not an identity, but a process, and that one always has to do more than just declare oneself an ally.
Jarvis spoke to the diversity of knowledge regarding transgender issues among attendees, noting that topics can range in the complexity and vocabulary discussed in regards to trans identities and intersectionality. She wrote, “We seek to provide trainings that can reach people wherever they are at in terms of their social consciousness around trans issues. We do, for example, go over basic trans vocabulary, but we also talk about alternative gender and sex models and focus on attendees’ questions, which means that we are sort of providing a 101, 201 and 301 all at the same time.”
Jarvis went on to note, “For this reason, we also encourage people to come back to the trainings—the process of learning and talking through concepts and realities of cissexism, trans erasure and transphobia must be continual to be effective.”
Torrisi will be one of those who continues her learning process, saying that the concrete steps to be a better ally were a helpful part of this training session and that, as a result, she wants to engage on similar programs in the coming months.
Torrisi remarked, “At the end they had us…reflect on how we could continue to do better. The handouts were very helpful. One gave us a list of ‘Action Tips for Allies of Trans People,’ and we went around the room and read them out loud.”
She continued, “We were also given a list of vocabulary terms, and invited to ask any questions we had about them. That kind of opportunity is rare. I think more people on campus should take advantage of events like this. I’m glad I went, and I plan on attending similar events in the future.”
While learning about improving as an ally was an important part of this training, McDaniel also said that they tried to get across nuances and divisions within an ultimately diverse community. One important distinction was the reality that the people receiving the brunt of abuse within the transgender community are trans women.
“[Carter] and I both made it a point throughout to emphasize that, while we talk about a ‘trans community’ to denote everybody who deviates from or transgresses our notions of strict binary gender categories, that it’s important to understand that many types of violences, including physical assault, rape, sexual assault, as well as institutional things like medical gatekeeping, imprisonment, homelessness and so on, are geared toward trans women, especially trans women of color,” wrote McDaniel.
They went on to explained, “[This is] because of the United States’ political, social and economic structures of racism, capitalism, cis-hetero-patriarchy, colonialism.”
While Torrisi hopes to continue her education and Jarvis wants to encourage faculty and administration to become more involved, McDaniel hopes to continue working on improving trans ally training.
Jarvis encouraged this relationship to continue in the coming years. She said, “We would be happy to work with any office on campus to share important trans allyship information.”
Aside from hopes to continue Trans Ally Training programming in the coming semesters, McDaniels articulated another hope for trans ally programming at the College. They wrote, “Hopefully, I’ll be able to continue the trans ally trainings, maybe creating smaller, more focused groups…dedicated to organizing [and] changing things at Vassar.”